Cupids Health

Why Touch Screens May Be a Bad Idea in Cars


I like knobs. Knobs for controlling things. And I have concerns about the increasing use of touch screens in cars. Admittedly, sometimes I can be old-fashioned. But I really do prefer knobs over touch screens for many types of controls. Let me explain.

New Cars and Touch Screens

We’ve been test-driving some new cars recently. I appreciate the clean and simple interiors. I like uncluttered spaces. For a variety of reasons, many car manufacturers have been shifted from knobs to touch screens. New cars are often completely touch screen-controlled. Instead of lots of knobs or slider controls, you have a single touch screen. You can use the touch screen to move between the different controls. Touch the screen to shift to climate controls. Then touch the screen to switch from heat to cool. Or maybe drag your finger across the screen to change the temperature, and then slide across another part of the screen to change the fan speed. Switch back to the home screen. Now you can switch over to the radio controls by touching another part of the screen. And then again drag your finger over the right part of the screen to control the volume.

The touch screen is a single system for many controls in your car. So simple. Actually, not simple at all. The touch screen is much more complex than physical knobs and sliders. The touch screen will always be more challenging to use, even after you’ve owned that new car for months or years. The touch screen will likely take more time to use for each thing you try to accomplish. The touch screen may also put you at greater risk of being in an accident.

Advantages of Physical Controls

Physical controls have serious advantages. You don’t need to look. You know when your hand is in the right place to use the controls. And you most likely receive physical feedback through your fingers letting you know you’ve succeeded. Finally, knobs are probably faster than touch screens.

Keeping Your Eyes on the Road

Can you change the temperature or the radio volume without looking? This is an important issue. In a car with knobs and other physical controls, you can often perform these tasks without looking. Once you’ve used the car for a while, you have a pretty good idea of where the knobs are. You reach over for the radio volume knob. If you reach correctly, you put your fingers and thumb right on it. If you miss, you probably only missed by a little and moving your hand will allow you to find the knob. And you will know when you have it. You have something your fingers and thumb touch and feel.

With screens, you can get close but not know if your finger is on the correct part of the screen. You most likely will have to look over to guide your finger to the right place. Since every part of the touch screen feels the same, you receive no tactile feedback of success. Touch screens will invariably require more time with your eyes off the road. Time using your eyes to guide your hand rather than your car.

The Value of Physical Feedback

A good knob clicks. It doesn’t have to click loud enough for you to hear. It just needs to click enough for your hand to feel. Each little click is information. Each click tells you that you are successfully making the change. Feedback is incredibly important for controlling your actions. Of course, you should be able to hear the radio changing volume. Sure. But at first, the changes are small—just noticeable in a quiet environment. Not easy to perceive when driving down the road. A click to your fingers lets you know you’re moving in the right direction.

Touch screens lack this physical feedback. They display visual feedback: A slider bar moving up or down. But you must look over to see if you are in the right place and if you are starting to make the change. No tactile feedback means that you are forced to move your eyes to the controls.

Knobs Are Faster

With a knob, you reach over and easily get your fingers on it. Since each control has its own knob, each control is a single reach and adjustment. No such luck with many touch screens. The touch screen is used to control all the systems. I am sure this is considered an advantage. Instead of multiple controls, you have one screen to control them all. But this means extra steps for each action. For controlling climate, you must switch away from the radio. For controlling the radio, you then go back to the home screen and then find the radio control screen. Each extra step means slower changes. And each step is time with your eyes on the screen rather than the road.

Some Possible Solutions

Some cars with touch screen controls have other options such as voice command controls. Voice commands may be effective. But many also require multiple attempts to work. If you’ve ever asked your phone to do something, you know there are still challenges in using voice commands. Other cars have a variety of button controls on the steering wheel. These seem very nice. Much like physical knobs and sliders, these buttons can be felt without looking. You can feel when your finger or thumb is in contact with one. You receive tactile feedback when you’ve pressed the button.

But if you need to use the touch screen to control systems in your car, I have a few suggestions. First, do this when you aren’t moving. Get your basic setup running before your car is running down the road.

Second, if you have a passenger, let that person control the touch screen.

Finally, keep your eyes on the road and off the fancy new screens in your car.



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3 thoughts on “Why Touch Screens May Be a Bad Idea in Cars

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